Recall effort underway in the Chelsea School District

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With petition language submitted, an effort has been started in the Chelsea School District to recall the school board president.

According to the Washtenaw County Clerk’s website, under a section called recall activity for the year, recall petition language was submitted this month calling for the recall of Kristin van Reesema from the office of Chelsea School District Board Member.

The recall petition was submitted to the county clerk’s office on June 16.

It reads, Language submitted by Michele Balaka to recall Kristin van Reesema from the office of Chelsea School District Board Member.

To call for a recall election, one must go through a step-by-step process with the county clerk’s office.

In the recall petition, it states the following reasons for wanting to call for a special recall election: Kristin van Reesema an elected Chelsea School Board trustee and current CSB President declined to hold a special meeting at the request of two or more board members along with parents in the CSD; as a result no public discussion took place regarding the decision to increase in person learning to 20 hours by Mar. 22, 21 deadline. Therefore, CSD lost approx $800,000 in funding from HB4048/Public Act #3 2021.

The clerk’s office said a review hearing for this new language will be held at 9 a.m. on June 29 via Zoom.

The Sun Times News reached out to van Reesema on June 17 to get a comment or response.

She issued a statement: “I am thankful to the teachers, administration, staff and community for their support this past year. I am proud of how the Chelsea School District responded to the challenges we faced together.”

Balaka had submitted language earlier this month, but withdrew it and then resubmitted it again on June 3, according to the clerk’s website.

The recall petition submitted on June 3 stated the following reasons as: Chelsea School District lost $800,000.00 in funding from HB4048 because School Board President Kristin van Reesema made an independent decision not to return to school on March 22, 2021. Furthermore, requests from board members to hold a special meeting to vote on the March 22, 2021 return were ignored by Kristin van Reesema. CSD opened March 29, 2021 losing $800,000.00.”

On June 15, a review hearing was held on the June 3 submitted language, and according to the clerk’s office it was determined the “Language submitted by Michele L. Balaka for the recall of Kristin van Reesema found to be not of sufficient clarity to enable the officer whose recall is sought and the electors to identify the course of conduct which is the basis of the recall.”

Balaka then resubmitted again on June 16 with adjusted language.

For some background on this, it’s helpful to go back to March 13 to a letter from CSD Superintendent Julie Helber to the school community:

“Dear Chelsea Community,

“Last week, Governor Whitmer signed House Bill (HB) 4048, which was proposed by the legislature as a way to designate the second round of federal financial assistance for schools known as the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) II funds. This bill was meant to provide additional financial support to schools as we continue educating and supporting students safely during the pandemic. The Chelsea School District and other districts across the state have been closely monitoring the development of HB 4048 since the federal government announced this round of funding last year.

“While the Chelsea School District will receive funding through the original Title I formula, we were hopeful we would meet the bill’s requirements to receive additional funding from HB 4048, I am disappointed that a significant change was made to the bill at the last minute which would ask us to compromise our commitment to prioritizing the safety of our students and staff. To qualify for a portion of these additional funds, a school district must offer 20 hours of in-person instruction a week to all students beginning next week on March 22, 2021.

“At the Chelsea School District, the health and safety of our entire school community is our number one priority, especially during this unprecedented pandemic. Our hybrid model has been incredibly successful this year because we are using every safety protocol available to us to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, including limiting the number of students in a classroom, maintaining physical distancing and masking up. We are proud that we have been able to provide both the consistency and flexibility needed for our students to safely continue learning. The Chelsea School District will be increasing in-person instruction opportunities on April 19, two weeks after Spring Break so we can monitor any potential increase in cases and once all of our staff have the opportunity to be fully protected by vaccination. We believe the sudden requirement of HB 4048 to provide a minimum of 20 hours of in-person instruction to all students as soon as next week would jeopardize the health and safety of students, families and staff.

“Although we are disappointed our district will not qualify for these funds (we are not alone in this challenge), we want to be clear that the Chelsea School District is in a financially healthy position. We have a strong fund balance of over 15% and believe we will end the year closer to 20%. We are grateful to have received additional funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act last year, ESSER 1 funds and we anticipate additional funding from a third round of ESSER funds in the future.

“Rest assured that the Chelsea School District will continue providing an exceptional education to our students while upholding rigorous health and safety standards and protocols. As we continue developing our plans to increase in-person instruction on April 19, we will ensure families have the information they need to make informed choices that best meet the educational and safety needs of your student(s)…” Helber wrote.

To give some other perspective, The Sun Times News is using a letter submitted to the newspaper on March 13 by a group of Chelsea parents.

Here it is:
To Whom it May Concern:

I am writing to alert you that the Chelsea School District is forfeiting approximately $900,000 in federal funding. Concerned parents have requested clarification and a special BOE meeting to discuss the return to school planning and securing the full federal funding. However, the BOE President van Reesema has denied the request of parents and supports Dr. Helber’s mid-April return to school date--which forfeits the additional federal funding. No reason has been given as to why it is in the best interest of the district to deprive the teachers and students of this money.

On March 9th HB 4048 was signed in to law by Governor Whitmer. (For more information:

http://legislature.mi.gov/doc.aspx?2021-HB-4048 and

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9sQMGrLm-c)

This allocated almost a million federal dollars for Chelsea School District (see TABLE: https://mea.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/HB_4048_funding_distribution_by_district_w_cover.pdf). However, a significant amount of this funding (~$887,000) is contingent on CSD offering 20 hours of in-person learning to Chelsea students per week starting no later than Monday, March 22nd. Families who chose virtual learning can continue in this modality. There is no penalty or negative impact on students remaining in virtual learning. The threshold for receiving full funding is that there is the option of 20 hours of in-person learning starting March 22nd. Of note, HB 4049 was vetoed by the Governor. This does not impact 4048 funding; but may impact future funding available for the district. (see http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2021-2022/billanalysis/House/pdf/2021-HLA-4048-BBE52C20.pdf)

As of the last BOE meeting on Monday, March 8th, return to in-person learning was discussed; however, there was no specific plan nor specific date shared. Several parents offered public comment in support of returning to in-person learning. Trustees Poulter and Lehman voted against the renewing the Reconfirmation Extended COVID-19 Learning Plan. Of note, there was no discussion of HB 4048 at that meeting. And, at the writing of this letter CSD has not communicated ANYTHING to parents regarding HB 4048 and what it means for the staff and students.

On Friday after 4pm, CSD families received the following email from Dr. Helber:

Dr. Helber does not mention HB 4048 AND sets the return to in-person schooling in April—missing the HB 4048 deadline and forfeiting ~$887,000 in federal funding .

Immediately following this email concerned parents started contacting BOE President van Reesema and other Trustees requesting a special BOE meeting to discuss Helber’s in-person plan and the possibility of securing the additional federal funding. It is noteworthy that these parents are interested in obtaining the funding these children and educators deserve, but also desire the option of full-time in-person learning for benefits, such as:

  • improving student mental health
  • reducing teacher stress caused by teaching 2 classes simultaneously
  • increasing the quality of education provided
  • reducing family strain to secure additional childcare
  • reducing potential exposure from non-cohort caregivers on a “virtual cleaning day”
  • reducing potential for further student loss caused by migration out of the district
  • Returning us to an equitable educational level of our surrounding districts where we belong
  • Improves property values and business traffic for our community

Regarding the request for an emergency BOE meeting, in an email sent from President van Reesema dated 3/13/21 she writes:

“Dear Bethany,
Thank you for your email. I wanted you to know that the board values your thoughtful input. These are unprecedented times. A date has been set for return to additional face to face learning. Plan details will follow so that parents can make an informed decision that best fits their child.
Respectfully,

Kristin”

At the writing of this letter, there is no special meeting scheduled. The Board is supporting an April 19th return to school start date and, in doing so, forfeiting almost $900,000 in federal funding.

This is unacceptable!! School Districts surrounding Chelsea have been back to in-person for some time and have been able to do so safely—Grass Lake, Pinckney, Manchester, Stockbridge, Howell, Whitmore Lake. Dexter was slow to return, but has been motivated by HB 4048 to modify its current return to school plans to secure full federal funding. This is the communication that came BEFORE noon on 3/12/21 from the Dexter Superintendent.
https://www.dexterschools.org/district/superintendent?fbclid=IwAR1ShglR5BNSGBOfwMU8BF89gVVgxp5CWajtjrc5SGxVlxSjInR99Q6cLC4

I appreciate that Dexter was flexible for its families, secured over a million dollars for their district, and communicated clearly and in a timely fashion. I wish CSD would have done the same. 

Chelsea parents have been patient during this pandemic. The CSD, per Dr. Helber’s 3/12/21 email, has a return to school plan that it will be presenting at the 3/22/21 BOE meeting. It stands to reason to adjust this start date and secure hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funding. This funding is important for our teachers and students. Further, our schools are important for our community. What doesn’t make sense is why CSD is ignoring this funding, not offering any explanations, and losing the confidence of the families and communities that support it.

We respectfully request, and ask others to join us, for the Board of Education to call a special meeting for discussion on the return to school plan and to clarify what HB 4048 means for CSD.

Sincerely,

Bethany Goehmann

CSD Parent

Chelsea Supports Return to Learn FB group

Co-signed:

Juli Mallie

CSD Parent

In addition to her statement, van Reesema also provided the following from the Michigan Association of School Boards for The Sun Times News to consider:

The legislature is considering HB 4421, a supplemental budget which appropriates federal ESSER II & ESSER III funds for schools.

While this is welcomed and long overdue news, the plan does not include the equalization payment for ESSER III that was included in the initial proposal that passed the House. Recall the plan provided funding for every district to receive a minimum of $1,093 per pupil of ESSER III funds.

For those of you who will not receive at least $1,093 per pupil through the Title IA formula, it is advised that you contact your legislators (House and Senate) and ask that this section of funding be included in the supplemental budget being considered this week. The following language is needed:

(10) From the federal funds allocated under section 11n, there is allocated for 2020-2021 an amount not to exceed $361,983,300.00 from the federal funding awarded to this state from the elementary and secondary school emergency relief (ESSER) fund under the American rescue plan act of 2021, title II, subtitle A, part 1 of Public Law 117-2, to eligible districts as provided in this subsection. Subject to subsection (15), the department shall pay each eligible district under this subsection an amount equal to the product of the district's 2020-2021 pupils in membership multiplied by the difference between $1,093.00 and the district's ESSER III formula payment per pupil. A district that has an ESSER III formula payment per pupil that is less than $1,093.00 is an eligible district under this subsection.

The Senate is already moving forward passing House Bill 4421 today. An analysis can be found here.

In an explanation of this, van Reesema told The Sun Times News this could lead to the CSD receiving the special funding, but at the time of her response she said it was unknown as to how much.

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